The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Used Musician Headphones

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The Do's and Don'ts of Buying Used Musician Headphones

A musician has different expectations from his headphones than an average consumer. A musician may use headphones to produce music, to monitor and cue tracks while DJing, and of course, to listen to music. Consequently, musician headphones are designed differently than consumer grade headphones. They may incorporate specific design-types for easier DJ play and calibrate underlying architecture to reduce equalisation for better monitoring. Musician headphones are rarely 'hi-fi'. They also tend to be more expensive than their consumer grade counterparts. Buying musician headphones, therefore, requires looking at certain specific characteristics.

About Musician Headphones

The first 'true' headphones were invented by Nathaniel Baldwin for the US Navy in 1910. In 1937, Beyerdynamic developed the world's first dynamic headphones, which offered superior sound quality. This is the same technology used in headphones today. Nearly 21 years later, John Koss invented the first studio headphones which led to the wide-scale adoption of headphones as a listening device. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that headphones exploded in popularity because of the Sony Walkman. In the 2000s, the iPod was instrumental in the growth of the headphones market. Today, the headphones market is estimated to be worth more than 6 billion dollars and is growing at more than 20 per cent each year. Musician headphones represent a sub-category of the larger headphones market. Unlike the consumer market which focuses more on aesthetics than pure sound quality, musician headphones emphasise accurate sound reproduction. Musician headphones are largely used in music production and recording industries, specifically for studio recording, live DJ monitoring, and more.

How to Buy Used Musician Headphones

Musician headphones are used by both amateur and professional musicians for recording, monitoring, and listening to audio. Consequently, musician headphones must meet certain requirements in terms of design, technology, fit, and features. Since they can be quite expensive, buying used musician headphones is highly recommended. There are certain do's and don'ts of buying used musician headphones. Some of these are:

Used Musician Headphones Purpose

Musicians primarily use headphones for recording and monitoring audio. Some musicians, such as DJs, depend on headphones when performing live as well. Depending on the purpose, used musician headphones can be classified into two broad categories:

Studio Headphones

Studio headphones are used by recording engineers to monitor audio while recording. Consequently, studio headphones are very powerful and have minimum built-in equalisation so that the engineer can get the most accurate sound reproduction possible. Studio headphones typically use 1/4inch audio jack, unlike the 1/8inch jack common with consumer headphones.

DJ Headphones

DJ headphones are quite similar to studio headphones but have a few features designed for live DJ play. They typically have a swivel cup design for easier one-ear play, noise isolation or noise cancellation features, and extremely comfortable design. They are not as powerful as studio headphones, but also cost significant less than their studio grade counterparts.

Types of Used Musician Headphones

Portability is rarely an issue with musician headphones as they are meant to be used in recording studios and home hi-fi systems. This gives manufacturers considerable leeway in designs and aesthetics, allowing them to use heavier, better quality materials for superior sound quality. Based on design, used musician headphones can be classified into four broad categories:

Circumaural or Ear-Cup Design

Circumaural headphones have ear-cups that enclose the ear completely. This leads to better noise isolation and is the preferred design for studio headphones. On the downside, ear-cup headphones tend to be cumbersome and uncomfortable for long use.

Supra-aural or Ear-Pad Design

Supra-aural headphones have ear pads that sit on top of the ears. This is a smaller and more comfortable design than circumaural headphones but doesn't offer as strong noise isolation benefits. It is usually preferred by DJs and musicians for listening to music.

Ear-Bud Design

Ear-bud design headphones are classified as earphones. The earphones sit on top of the ear canal and are designed for portability. Although largely used in consumer headphones, this design has also found its way in some portable studio headphones.

Ear-Canal Design

Another type of earphone design, these sit inside the ear canal cavity. This delivers better noise isolation but can be uncomfortable over long use. Ear-canal design is mostly used in consumer grade headphones.

Most musician headphones utilise either the ear-cup (circumaural) or ear-pad (supra-aural) design. Where portability is an issue, ear-canal designs may also be used, although this is very rare.

Used Musician Headphone Earpiece Designs

Circumaural and supra-aural headphones can be further divided into two categories depending on the type of earpiece design used: closed back or open back. Earpiece design is an important consideration as it can affect overall sound quality and performance, especially in studio settings.

Closed Back

In closed back earpiece design, the back of the ear cup is completely sealed, preventing sound from entering or escaping the headphones. This is the preferred design in situations where a microphone may pick up sound emitted by the headphones, such as audio tracking. As a downside, closed back headphones offer relatively poor sound quality (as compared to open back).

Open Back

In open back design, the back of the earpiece is open. Sound can enter and escape from the headphones. This gives a more natural feel to the sound and is the preferred design where sound quality is of utmost importance. Open back headphones are typically used in recording studios for monitoring purposes or for listening to audio.

Used Musician Headphones Features

Musician headphones typically boast a number of features to wring the best performance out of the any audio system. These headphones are designed for tracking, monitoring, and recording audio either live or in a studio. Consequently, noise cancellation/noise isolation, long, detachable cables, etc. are highly preferred features. A brief overview of common used musician features can be seen below.

Noise Cancellation

A noise cancellation system works by actively listening to ambient noises and playing back an inverted version of the noise. Theoretically, a good noise cancellation system should block out 100 per cent of all external noise, though this is seldom so in practice. Headphones with noise cancellation are rarely used in studio settings but may be of use in certain situations (for example: recording instrumental tracks).

Noise Isolation

Headphones with noise isolation seal the ear from ambient noises, allowing the listener to focus on the music. Noise isolation headphones are very popular among DJs and recording engineers.

Detachable, Coiled Cables

Recording studios often require long cables that can easily get tangled up in transportation. For the sake of portability, most musician headphones have coiled and detachable cables.

1/4 inch Audio Jack

Musician headphones typically employ a larger, 1/4 inch audio jack, keeping with the requirements of recording equipment.

Used Musician Headphones Equalisation

Most consumer grade headphones have some sort of in-built equalisation that colours all sound. Musicians working in a studio, however, need to get as accurate a reproduction of the recorded sound as possible. Consequently, most musician headphones do not have any in-built equalisation. This gives superior fidelity and accurate sound reproduction.

Used Musician Headphones Impedance

Impedance is a measure of the amount of electrical resistance offered by any speaker. It is measured in a unit called 'ohms'. Headphones with high impedance require more amplification to reproduce sound. At the same time, higher impedance equates to less distortion, greater fidelity, and overall better audio quality. Ordinary, consumer grade speakers typically range from 8 to 32 ohms in impedance. Headphones for DJs may have anywhere from 35 to 75 ohms of impedance. Studio headphones, on the other hand, can have impedance values up to 600 ohms. Musicians typically have access to ample amplification, especially in studios or in clubs. Therefore, high impedance is a highly desirable trait in used musician headphones as it produces better quality sound. As a downside, studio headphones might not work with a device such as iPod without external amplification.

How to Buy Used Musician Headphones on eBay

eBay's huge inventory of studio and DJ headphones is the preferred platform to purchase used musician headphones. To buy used musician headphones on eBay, search for Headphones under the Headphones category under Sound & Vision. Select used under conditions and Studio & Musician under use tab in the left pane. The search results can now be filtered according to different criteria. This includes filtering by earpiece design - ear-cup , ear-pad , earbud - and by features like noise cancellation , detached cable , etc. Selections can also be made according to connectivity - wired or wireless - and by colour.


Musician headphones are markedly different from consumer headphones. They offer several features not commonly found in their consumer counterparts. The audio quality is much better as they have to be used for recording, monitoring, and tracking purposes. Musician headphones selections have to be made according to use, design, earpiece design, impedance, and built-in features. eBay has a large selection of used musician headphones at attractive prices.

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